Rakestraw’s review published on Letterboxd:
The writer!!! I found that exciting...I don't know why, but I did. I feel as though Anatoliy Solonitsyn is an actor I need to see more of...even though I don't remember him from Solaris (time for a rewatch!).
Speaking of actors, Boris Plotnikov displays an unbelievably effective balance of sadness, tenderness (those eyes!), courage, along with that understandably acceptance, willingness to die. To confront death face-to-face. Ohhh, did I mention this is Plotnikov's acting debut? You wouldn't know this given his performance because he absolutely kills it.
The cinematography...oh the cinematography, let's talk about that for a minute. Vladimir Chukhnov and Pavel Lebeshev (along with Larisa Shepitko) extend the tradition of unparalleled camerawork exhibited by the Russians - angles and/or framing; starting the film with frames, action-packed war-time gun battles, with the credits strolling over top heralding the fact that, war-time action will not take presidence over the conscience-driven narrative to follow.
There is a very short moment when Sotnikov and Rybak withdraw from the snow covered forest, and it's slightly out of focused glory. It truly is a sight to behold, even though it last...maybe a two seconds or so. My god, it's magnificent!!! The snow clinging to the tree bark as the two descend into the white nothingness, where the viewer knows that nothing but inhumanity awaits them.
Nothing looks better than fields and forest, snow-covered rendered in black-and-white...nothing! Snow in black and white might be the most beautiful image in the world - I could be wrong, but I think not.
Rybak dragging Sotnikov through the snow. Sotnkov, propped up against the tree flailing wildly against the branches with anger ready for death, snow exploding all around. Beauty...such beauty. A man ready for death.
The sled ride!!!!....with Sotnikov's face populating the bottom portion of the frame, with the landscape (snow-covered and pristine) occupying the exterior...with those eyes! (how?...how did they do that?)
Incomprehensible beauty, throughout. Especially the sequence involving the condemned marching towards their deaths. Faraway shot showing the lot trudging up the hill...cut to the long distance, valley shot of the motherland...up comes the faces of the condemned.
Beauty. Powerful. Transcendence.
I cannot express my feelings. I cannot.